“Christmas Came – Just The Same!”

May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard.  Amen.

This past month, I have started a children’s service for our Nursery School kids.  We have about 30 kids who have been signed up by their parents to attend.  Now this past week, I asked them if they had ever seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Hands shot up, and I said it was one of my favorite shows too.  Before I could go into the story of Jesus that Linus tells, one of the kids said, with a very surprised look, “Mother Diana, you watch cartoons?”  “Well, yes.” I replied.  “Doesn’t everybody?” 

I suppose anyone attending our Christmas Day service the past couple of years, would tell you that I at least reference cartoons from time to time – Christmas ones anyway.  A couple of years ago, I started offering a Christmas Day service here in the afternoon.  It is a casual and fun service, that features a contemporary reading in place of the psalm.  For the past two years this reading has been from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss – the book or cartoon that is –  not that movie version with Jim Carey, which likely makes Theodor [Guy-zill] Geisel (the man behind the pseudonym Dr. Seuss) roll in his grave. 

Anyway, the reading begins at the scene where the Grinch, having stolen all the presents and everything else “Christmas” from the Whos down in Whoville, is now at the top of Mt. Crumpet – ready to dump it – ready, he believes, to ruin their Christmas.

But then he begins to hear from the Whos – not crying, but singing – joyful singing – on that Christmas morning!  And the reading begins there.

“Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”

“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

It’s a classic scene, in a familiar story.  Maybe it is one of the things you do each year at this time – watch this story, or read it.  In my family when we were kids, my mom would read it – doing all of the character’s voices.  It may even be that this Grinch classic is one of the many things you have checked off of your annual Christmas to-do list.  In fact, maybe the list is all done – presents are bought, cards (or e-cards) sent, food prepared…whatever it is that is on your list.  So, maybe you are finally “ready” for Christmas.  And yet, even if you aren’t, even if the house is a mess, nothing is packed, there are presents yet to buy… Christmas comes anyway – ready or not. 

“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

I expect that makes a lot of sense because the Christmas story is one about the birth of a small child, and as any parent can tell you, babies don’t always come when they are expected.  The due dates are not stamped into some sort of pregnancy app that automatically pushes the baby out at a precise day and time.  Without medical intervention, that baby will be born into the world whenever it is “time,” regardless of it being convenient or not.

So, it is for Christmas, when a baby entered the world.

And no matter what we do, or don’t do, Christmas will come.  It isn’t like Santa – we don’t have to be good.  Christmas will come whether or not we are fully done with our to-do list.  No Grinch, even if his name is Uncle Joey, or your crazy mother-in-law, can stop it.  

Christmas will come – but it is where, and how, and why…oh, that is the real gift of Christmas.

God chose Mary to be the God bearer – Theotokos – a young girl of little means from some backwater town in the middle of nowhere.  If this was a novel sent to a publisher, I am sure the rejection letter would say something like “not a believable basis for the narrative – too impossible to be believed.” Yet, there it is. God chose her.  A very unexpected choice.

And then angels were sent by God to announce this miraculous birth to shepherds – the lowest in society, the ones without means, the ones not welcome in nice places, the ones who care for the flocks in the cold of night.  God chose them – the least of these – to be the first to receive the good news. 

The story we don’t hear tonight (but will on January 7th), from Matthew, then tells us that wise astrologers from a far off land are given a sign by God that something important has happened.  God chose these strangers from a strange land, their religion (if they had one) foreign too.  God chose them, and leads them to Bethlehem.

God came – Jesus came, just the same, into a world that wasn’t ready, to a world not expecting Him, to a mother that said YES!, in a place unexpected, to a people unwanted, or unknown.

It just isn’t what we might expect. 

Yet, if you think about it, the story of our faith is filled with the most unlikely characters through whom God chooses to work: From crazy as a fox Abraham to adulterous King David, Paul who was Saul and sanctioned the murder of St. Stephen, and Peter who can’t get anything right, God keeps entering into relationship with us in the most unlikely ways through the most unexpected people.  Actually, perhaps God would have had better success if She had chosen women more often, rather than these nutty men.  But the point is – none of these people were ones most would have expected God to choose – least of all Mary, a bunch of shepherds, and some foreign astrologers.  And that, my friends, is perhaps the very point of this entire Christmas story.

Mary, the shepherds, those strange wise people – the choice of these to bear the good news makes one thing very clear: God didn’t come to judge, or punish, or divide, or condemn, despite what some would tell you.  No. 

God didn’t choose the powerful, but the powerless.  God didn’t choose the rich, but the poor.  God didn’t choose the ones seen, but the ones not seen – the ones on the outside looking in.  And God chooses again tonight. 

God chooses YOU!

I mean, sure, most people who celebrate Christmas say they believe in God “generally,” but would they say they expect God to choose them – to work through them – to be born in their midst?”  Would you say that?  My guess is most would say…”Um, no.”[1]  But make no mistake – that is exactly what is happening here tonight.  All of us are a mixture of those folks long ago – some poor (either financially or spiritually), others lost, some from far away, others searching for something, some caring for a flock, others young, some vulnerable… none of us have our lives together in all the ways we would like.  We are a mixed bag of folks with hopes, dreams, worries, and fears. 

As was true then, we are a people very much as Isaiah described – the hate, bigotry, violence and greed that has enveloped this country this past year has cast a pall over our land.  And so many have had personal tragedies that seem all the more difficult to bear in this time of year.  And yet, the story of Christmas is that no matter how dark our world becomes – God will always come – nothing can stop that – because God wants us to know something so important, something we can lose in the hustle and bustle of the season – something being made known by whom God chooses in this story.  And it is this: 

That there is no one that is insignificant to God – no matter how small the world might think you are, no matter how unexpected you might feel it would be, no matter what you have or have not done, God is born to YOU this day. 

Yes, to YOU! 

God chose this very personal and vulnerable way to get a message to us, and the reason is as simple as the means into which Jesus was born. God chose the very people others did not see – the poor, the stranger, the outcast – to make it absolutely clear that God loves everyone, deeply, abundantly, and for all time.

We can sometimes make Christmas so complicated that it is barely recognizable for what it is – the most miraculous love story ever told.  Maybe that’s why you come here tonight.  Because you know there is more to this story too. More than the ribbons, more than the tags, more than packages, boxes or bags.

Because it really doesn’t matter if you bought all the presents you had on your list, or even if they were the ones people wanted.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to buy anything at all.  It doesn’t matter if your celebration is a loud, raucous, affair with loads of family, or a dinner with your dog in front of a TV watching the Hallmark Channel.  It doesn’t matter if you sing songs in English, Spanish, Polish, Luganda, or Creole.  It doesn’t matter if your family has a mom and dad, two moms, two dads, or anything else.  It doesn’t matter if it snows, or you celebrate under palm trees.  None of that matters.

As the Grinch figured out: Christmas doesn’t come from a store – Christmas, really does mean a little bit more – well really, a whole lot more. Christmas still came.  Jesus came, just the same, into a world that wasn’t ready, to a world not expecting Him, to a mother that said YES!, in a place unexpected, to a people unwanted, or unknown. 

Jesus came just the same this night too – into the darkness of our world.

And the angels are telling us that Jesus is born for YOU – and you will find Him in much the same way – in the poorest of places, on the fringes of humanity.  He is born that you may know that you are unconditionally loved beyond measure, and share this love with others, that all the world may live in peace.

That’s the promise of Christmas – that no matter how cold this world may seem, no matter how small we may feel, the light that shines in the darkness will always come. There is always hope, always love. You don’t have to puzzle in the snow for three hours, because it isn’t as complicated as we try to make it. It really is that simple…and that amazing. 

Jesus is born this day. 

To you, and in You.

God chooses you, God loves you, God will always come for you.   

May Jesus be born anew in your hearts this night, that His light may shine forth from you, filling the world with love, grace, and peace.

Merry Christmas!

For the audio from the 10pm service, click here:

[1] David Lose, davidlose.net.

Rev. Diana L. Wilcox

Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge

December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve – Christmas Day Selection I

1st Reading – Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 96

2nd Reading – Titus 2:11-14

Gospel – Luke 2:1-14(15-20)